“Holiday hunger” is a condition faced by hundreds of thousands of children from low-income families who struggle to eat healthily outside term time. Children living in poverty dropped further behind their better-off peers when schools closed and they had no access to free school meals, and they were often physically and mentally unprepared for learning when they returned. There’s enough anecdotal evidence to say that some children come back to school less well nourished and generally in less good shape than when they left, and they go backwards academically.
Carmel McConnell, the founder of Magic Breakfast, a charity which works with more than 440 school breakfast schemes, said in extreme cases children had been hospitalised after suffering from malnutrition during long school holidays. “We have a lot of kids who survive [in the holidays] on the £1 chicken box, and who live on crisps or anything they can get. The teachers tell me it takes about a month to get them back to where they were before the school holidays in terms of their digestive system, their hair, their skin, their teeth. They have real health problems.”
The Trussell Trust food bank network said it believed holiday hunger was behind an 11% spike in referrals of families with children to its food banks during the six-week holidays this summer. It said some of its members extended their opening hours during school holidays to cope with the extra demand for food parcels.
Campaigners say children whose families experience financial pressures are not only at greater risk of food insecurity, family stress, isolation and poor health during the holidays, but they also miss out on the so-called social “enrichment activities” such as trips and sporting and cultural activities enjoyed by better-off children. The Child Poverty Action Group said low wages, insecure employment, welfare cuts and unemployment, together with rising food and energy prices, meant many low-income families “could not afford the basics”.
Caroline Wolhuter, who runs a holiday hunger scheme called Holiday Kitchen in the West Midlands, said for children from families under financial pressure school holidays also meant the disappearance of routine opportunities to socialise and engage in active play, as well as putting them at risk of food poverty and poor health. Wolhuter, head of social inclusion at Ashram housing association, said: “What we see is happening through a landscape of austerity. It’s not just about benefit cuts, it’s about funding cuts and the hollowing out of the labour market. We have a lot more people on low incomes and working families living below the breadline.”
The Children’s Society pointed out that an estimated 500,000 UK children living below the bread line did not qualify for free school meals because their parents were in work, but were unable to afford to pay for a decent lunch.
With a booming property market forcing many more people into the private rented sector, there has been growing concern about the size and condition of some properties.
Islington is home to two streets, Holloway Road and Caledonian Road, that together contain about 600 properties subdivided into flats and homes to 3,500 tenants, to allow landlords to maximise their income in London’s booming rental market. Of 208 properties visited by council officers, 141 had problems such as dirty communal areas, mice infestations and use of box rooms as homes. One property had been converted from a hostel to 19 studio rooms, some as small as three metres by three metres, for which tenants were paying £255 a week in rent.
Islington council is proposing to force landlords on the two streets to apply for licences for all rented properties occupied by three or more people living as two or more households. Under current rules, licences are only required if a house in multiple occupation, or HMO, has more than three storeys and is shared by more than five people. The council wants landlords to pay £260 to license each bedsit, studio or bedroom for up to five years; those who fail to do so could be fined up to £20,000 for each house.
James Murray, Islington’s executive member for housing and development, said “The problems with the private rented sector are widespread, but I think it’s right for us to be focusing our resources in this area – it really is the frontier of the wild west of the renting market...there is such a shortage of housing and that leaves them vulnerable to rogue landlords.”
Savills estate agents put the price of a starter home in the borough of Islington at more than £340,000 last year.